Water Quality FAQ

What should I know about arsenic?

Is there arsenic in El Paso’s water? Arsenic occurs naturally as a constituent in many types of rocks and minerals. Some of the geological formations comprising El Paso’s aquifers consist of arsenic-containing rocks in nearby mountains. Some of the arsenic dissolves into El Paso’s groundwater over time.

Is arsenic in drinking water harmful? In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a new health standard for arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion, which is equivalent to less than a teaspoon of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The previous standard for arsenic was adopted in 1943 and was 50 parts per billion.

How does EPWater remove arsenic and meet regulations? In order to comply with the new standard set by the EPA, EPWater designed and constructed the Upper Valley Water Treatment Plant. The Upper Valley Water Treatment Plant removes naturally occurring arsenic from drinking water. An iron salt is used to attract the arsenic as part of the removal process. Once arsenic reacts with the iron, the resulting precipitate settles and is filtered from the water, leaving arsenic-free water behind. The finished water is then sent to the Canutillo Booster Pump Station where it is then distributed to the Upper Valley, West Side and areas beyond the city limits.

Interesting Facts: To date, the Upper Valley Water Treatment Plant is one of the largest facilities in the United States constructed as a result of the revised federal regulation on arsenic.

What should I know about fluoride?

What do we know about fluoride and fluoridation? Fluoride, a substance which prevents cavities in teeth, occurs naturally in El Paso’s water. The American Dental Association recommends a concentration at 1 part per million, and levels in El Paso tap water fall below or at that level. In other water utilities, water is “fluoridated” when a public water system adjusts fluoride to the optimal level.

Is fluoride in drinking water safe? Yes. Public health institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and the ADA conclude that extensive research demonstrates that fluoridation of public water supplies is safe when added or naturally present in the correct amounts. Because of the naturally occurring fluoride in El Paso’s water, child cavity rates have been reduced by up to 40 percent, according to the ADA. The CDC declared fluoridation to be one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the past century because of its contribution in the decline in tooth decay.

How can I tell if my water has fluoride in it? EPWater publishes a consumer confidence report annually that describes the source and quality of your drinking water and our efforts to ensure a high-quality water supply. The report is available at epwater.org, or please call 915-594-5733 to get a hard copy.

If you get your drinking water from a private well, you should have your water tested by a certified laboratory at least once a year. You can bring samples for testing to EPWater's International Water Quality Lab at 4100 Delta Drive.

What should I know about lead?

Is lead a concern in El Paso’s Water? There is no lead in the source waters used for El Paso's drinking water, nor is there lead in the pipelines that carry water through the city or the service lines that lead into businesses and homes.

Lead seldom occurs naturally in lakes and rivers, and it is seldom present in water at treatment plants. Lead in drinking water is usually caused by corrosion in water distribution systems and in the lead plumbing fixtures and lead solder commonly used in older homes.

How is lead monitored? EPWater monitors lead levels at its water treatment plants, in the distribution system and in homes likely to have elevated lead levels. Lead is rarely detected, but when it is, levels are very low. The highest level detected recent samples was 80 percent below the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

How do you prevent lead from old home plumbing systems from entering the drinking water? Because river water can be slightly acidic, EPWater adds phosphates to inhibit corrosion. This chemical creates a film in pipes that reduces the likelihood of lead leaching from lead plumbing systems. Water from the aquifers is not acidic, so corrosion inhibitors are not required.

Where can I learn more? To learn more, visit the EPA website, or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

What should I know about unregulated contaminants?

What are unregulated contaminants? As part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is asking public utilities to monitor substances that are not regulated, known as unregulated contaminants. The intent of testing is to provide a baseline of occurrence that can later be combined with toxicological research to make decisions about potential future drinking water regulations.

What is EPWater testing for? These substances include but are not limited to pharmaceutical drugs, personal care products, toxic chemicals and hexavalent chromium.

What is the frequency of testing? Every five years, the Environmental Protection Agency develops a list of roughly 30 unregulated contaminants for monitoring. After 12 months, the information is collected from participating utilities such as EPWater and analyzed for occurrence, routes of exposure and health effects.

What happens next? Dependent on the prevalence, the test results are used to help determine whether certain contaminants are found in drinking water and at what levels. EPA can then conduct further analysis in order to determine whether additional regulation is necessary.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals used in items like Teflon coating for cooking utensils, popcorn bags, and fire retardants. If not disposed of properly, the chemicals could leach into the environment and water sources. PFAS are designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as unregulated contaminants.

EPWater and approximately 6,000 other water utilities in the country monitor for unregulated compounds in accordance with the EPA's third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3). This information will help the EPA determine if regulation is necessary to protect public health, and it will help public water systems determine how to address the issue of emerging compounds.
Tests for PFAS in El Paso’s water system show that PFAS are far below the EPA health advisory level.
For more information, visit Basic Information on PFAS.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics (MPs) are small plastic particles that enter the environment through human use. While some particles are manufactured at a micro size like microbeads in soaps, larger plastics like water bottles can break down into smaller particles becoming a risk over time.

MPs have recently been detected in oceans, seas and freshwater bodies worldwide. Municipal treatment plants remove the majority of MPs. Conventional water treatment processes can reduce plastics into the drinking water system, however the ability to remove MPs depends on particle size.
Research regarding MPs is ongoing with experts identifying best practices and the standardization of methods.

What causes the musty taste and odor I sometimes find in my water?

Sometimes microscopic plants called algae multiply rapidly in the New Mexico reservoirs during the hot summer months. This causes a distinctly different taste and odor to develop in El Paso’s water, which is derived from the Rio Grande. This problem is normally short lived. Activated carbon is used at the water treatment plants to absorb these algae-related tastes and odors. Even if the musty smell and taste are apparent, the water is safe to drink.


Does El Paso have hard water? Should I install a water softener?

Water hardness is defined by the amount of calcium and magnesium present. When the levels are comparatively low, water is described as soft. When the levels are comparatively high, water is described as hard. Water in El Paso is described as moderately hard to hard. Harder water does not lather as easily and does not form as many suds when using soap or detergent. However, there is increasing evidence that the presence of calcium and magnesium found in hard water is desirable for good cardio-vascular health. We do not recommend the installation of water softeners for drinking water.


Is the chlorine used to disinfect water dangerous?

El Paso uses chlorine to disinfect our drinking water. Chlorine has been used in municipal water in the U.S. since 1908, and it is the most effective way to ensure that water stays disinfected as it travels through water delivery systems. Chlorine prevents water-borne epidemics such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. The maximum amount of chlorine in El Paso’s water is usually two parts per million. Chlorine in this quantity poses no adverse health risks.


What causes water to sometimes appear discolored or rusty?

Rusting in galvanized pipes in plumbing systems is the typical cause of discolored water. In some cases, rusty or dirty water may come from the distribution system as a result of a main break or fire hydrant use. Iron causes the discoloration, but it is not a health risk. Usually, rusty water will clear after running for a few minutes. Although rusty or dirty water does not create a health risk, we recommend that you do NOT drink water that is not clear. If the water does not clear after running or if clothing is stained in the wash, please call El Paso Water for assistance at 915-594-5733.


Is lithium present in El Paso’s water? Does it have an effect on people’s moods?

A small amount of lithium occurs naturally in El Paso’s water. The amount is considerably less than a medical dosage. Lithium is sometimes use by doctors to treat mental disorders. To get the same amount of lithium as one standard capsule, you would have to drink about 600 glasses of water.


Should I be concerned about lead in El Paso’s drinking water?

Lead is not a problem in El Paso’s drinking water. There is no lead in the source waters used for El Paso’s drinking water, nor is there lead in the pipelines that carry water through the city or in the service lines that lead into businesses and homes. In older homes (pre-1989), lead may have been used in some plumbing fixtures. El Paso Water monitors lead levels throughout our systems. Very low levels of lead have been detected in some older homes, but levels were well below limits set by the EPA.

Would a home filtration device make my water safer?

If you are an El Paso Water customer, these devices are not necessary to make your water safe. Your water is safe as it comes from the tap. If not properly maintained, water purification devices may actually cause problems with your water, including uncontrolled growth of disease-causing bacteria.


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